Montgomery County clerk agrees to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses
By Brad Bumsted and Tony LaRussa
Published: Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, 12:03 p.m.
HARRISBURG — A court ruling on Thursday preventing local officials from issuing same-sex marriage licenses strengthened the gay community's resolve to push for “marriage equality,” a Pittsburgh activist said.
“Obviously, the judge's ruling is disappointing, but now more than ever the community is fired up. ... The fight is certainly not over,” said Gary Van Horn, president of Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh, an advocacy group for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.
Until the Legislature or courts overturn Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriages, local officials must comply with its provisions, Commonwealth Judge Dan Pellegrini, a former Pittsburgh solicitor, ruled in a Montgomery County case. The law defines marriage as a union between “one man and one woman.”
Pellegrini ordered Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, saying Hanes clearly violated his legal authority.
“The marriage law in its entirety is to be obeyed and enforced by all Commonwealth public officials,” the judge wrote.
Hanes said he would comply with the order but might appeal to state Supreme Court. He'll review the decision with the county solicitor and his lawyer.
“I am more convinced today that I am on the right side of history,” said Hanes, who has issued 174 such licenses. “Regardless of how my particular case is resolved, I believe the case for marriage equality continues to move forward, and I can only hope that my decision helped that effort.”
General Counsel James Schultz, who sought the order on behalf of the state Health Department, said the key question was whether any local official can decide which laws to uphold or reject based on personal legal opinion.
“We appreciate the court's consideration of the legal and social complexities of this issue, along with the future ramifications — not just in this individual case, but in all types of decisions made by public officials,” Schultz said.
“I commend the Commonwealth Court for an outstanding decision,” said Rep. Matthew Baker, a conservative Republican from Tioga County who noted that the 1996 law “passed with strong public and bipartisan support.”
Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, who has presided over 11 same-sex marriage ceremonies, including one on Saturday, said he was “discouraged and ashamed” that state officials continue to practice what he considers “legalized discrimination.”
“Everyone knows that marriage equality is coming to Pennsylvania sooner or later,” he said. “So why not embrace it and move forward?”
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said that permitting same-sex couples to marry is “the right thing to do” from a civil rights standpoint and that the issue could have a broader effect.
“It's not a good idea for the state to send out a message that we're open for business and then be the only state in the East that puts up roadblocks for people to come here,” he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit in June asserting that the law is unconstitutional. Attorney General Kathleen Kane said at the time that she would not defend the state in the lawsuit because she believes the law is “wholly unconstitutional.” She gave the case to Schultz's office.
Hanes began issuing licenses to same-sex couples after Kane's announcement.
Joe Peters, a spokesman for Kane, said her decision was never about refusing to enforce the law. She has an obligation as an attorney to withdraw from representing a client if there's a fundamental disagreement such as her belief the marriage law was unconstitutional, Peters said.
Pellegrini ruled that Hanes is a county official, not a court official as he contended, and rejected his lawyers' contention that Commonwealth Court had no jurisdiction in the case. The Health Department and general counsel did have standing to bring the suit, Pellegrini said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers WR Brown says ‘I thought I had it clean’ after wild, near-miss finish
- Penguins’ Orpik out; Neal to have phone hearing
- Steelers’ playoff hopes all but gone in loss to Dolphins
- Fatal crash shuts down Bigelow Blvd. in Pittsburgh
- North Park Lake Trail to be widened along Ingomar Road
- Multi-vehicle crash closes Route 22 in Murrysville
- Cranberry woman wins Miss Pennsylvania USA pageant
- Pitt to face Bowling Green in Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
- Mars hockey endures emotional week of highs, lows
- Defensive lapses against Dolphins outweigh positives for Steelers
- LaBar: WWE will be at crossroads in 2014